Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Advertising Democratic? Girl from Google Thinks So!

First, Lauren Turner -- another one of those Google Health account people I choose to call "Girl from Google" because of her apparent utter lack of experience and knowledge regarding health advertising -- made a provocative and self-serving post to Google's Health Advertising Blog for which she was soundly criticized (see "Google Not Gaga Over SiCKO. Has Remedy for Pharma").

Then, in her followup apology (see "My opinion and Google's"), Turner makes this astonishing comment:
"Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic [my emphasis] and effective way to participate in a public dialogue."
Advertising is indeed a very effective way to participate in a public dialogue, but is it democratic? Let's dissect this and see if advertising, particularly health and pharma advertising, is democratic.

Here's one definition of democratic:
"representing or appealing to or adapted for the benefit of the people at large"
I suppose you can argue that Direct to Consumer (DTC) advertising, for example, is for the "benefit of the people at large" and this is precisely the basis of the drug industry's defense of DTC advertising. That and also that advertising represents "commercial free speech,' another "democratic" principle.

But if "benefit to people at large" were the only democratic principle involved, then Moore's solution to our nation's healthcare problem would also be democratic. So would Hugo Chavez's appropriation of the oil industry in Venezuela be democratic.

Let's dive deeper. Another definition of democratic I found is:
"based upon the principles of democracy or social equality"
That's a little circular, but the important part is "scoial equality" as in open and free elections. This is the kind of democracy for which many Americans are sacricing their lives to establish in Iraq.

Certainly, I do not vote for what kind of Rozerem ad Takeda decides to run on TV. I am free to criticize these ads after the fact, but only paid agencies have a "democratic" right to choose what kind of ad to run. But even then Takeda can veto any idea its agency may have or even fire that agency at will! So, no real democracy there.

Maybe what Turner means is that advertising is democratic because all advertisers are "equal" in their right to advertise through Google.

That may be the case, as long as you have the money!

I can advertise on Google and bid against other advertisers to get my AdWords displayed in search results and on content sites. That process is pretty democratic in that it is open to me and anyone else wishing to use Adwords. But, it's even "more democratic" (sic) for rich advertisers who can easily out-bid me!

But I don't cry and say "Wah! You have more money than me! It's undemocratic!" No, I do not. There's no crying in advertising. If you have a bigger budget, more power to you. This situation, like many other aspects of business, is inherently UNDEMOCRATIC.

OK, so we have established that advertising is NOT democratic. That being the case, then we cannot say -- as this GfG says -- that advertising is a democratic way of participating in public dialogue. To really participate in public dialogue, corporations should employ channels that are truly PUBLIC and democratic -- like blogs!
Blogs are the most democratic means by which corporations can participate in public dialogue about issues. Maybe not the most effective means (you could be more effective using undemocratic means like advertising and PR), but the most democratic.
Too bad Google's Health Advertising Blog does not accept comments from readers. If it did, Turner might have seen these comments, which I found the New York Times Bits blog:
Google's trumpeting of the original point was offensive, but the apology is even worse: "advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue." Advertising is anti-democratic in and of itself: it is limited to those who can afford it. Google should apologize for this statement as well and check its policies and procedures to make sure that the bean counters don’t blindly violate one of its supposed central tenets: "don’t be evil."

She's basically saying that Google’s stance on the healthcare issue is up for sale. That they’ll back whoever pays them to, with a wink-nudge toward the healthcare industry since they’ve probably got the money to spend. Google has come a long way from "do no evil". Pretty disgusting from my viewpoint.

The suggestion that advertising is in any way democratic is a reflection of the very scary direction that this country is headed in. Corporate control, characterized by the ability to alter public perception through unlimited resources and advertising, is surely one of the most dangerous trends taking place in America today. It worries me to think that a corporation such as Google condones that kind of "democracy".

It never ceases to amaze me that in the year 2007 We the People still confuse Democracy with Capitalism. The primary delusion is that a Democratic society must be inherently Capitalistic in economic nature to truly be a "free" society. Is Google or any other mainline advertising channel ready to accept the challenge to install free or low cost advertising rates to small grassroots organizations???
And so on...

In my research for this post, I came upon the paper "Toward A Critical Theory of Advertising," which seems to address the issue of mass communication, democracy, and capitalism. I haven't read it yet, but it may be interesting reading over this holiday week when we here in the US are celebrating our democracy!


  1. Anonymous10:28 AM

    Great blogpost.

  2. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Maybe if you're too poor to advertise it's because you have nothing worthwhile to advertise or so the market has judged correctly.

    I love your advertising!

  3. It's less about being too poor -- a startup company with a wonderful product may be too poor to advertise -- than it is about being too RICH, which allows you to staurate the ad market with information about a bad product (Rozerem comes to mind here!).

  4. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Hmmm... So Google equates democracy with who has the most money. Where does this faulty proposition lead?

    "I can shout louder than you, so I must be right...?"

    "I am bigger than you, so I must be better...?"

    Or even, "I work for a massive search engine company and therefore my opinions can never be asinine?"


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